Category Archives: Information

Microsoft aims to save the oceans with new mouse

The environment is on almost everyone’s mind these days. It’s hard to ignore when it keeps reminding us with things like one-hundred-year storms every couple of years and going through the Latin alphabet and into the Greek one while naming storms during one season. 

Most of us try to be conscious of what we do with waste and watch our energy consumption, but the giant garbage pit of the Pacific doesn’t shrink any. There has to be things we can do about it, right? 

Now Microsoft claims to be putting some of that waste to use as part of a new mouse. The shell of the new peripheral is made of twenty percent ocean-recycled plastic and the pack is from one hundred percent recycled material. 

The plastic outer part of the body uses a resin with recycled material made from plastic trash that is recovered from our oceans. The plastic waste then gets turned into pellets, which are eventually blended in with the other materials that make up the outer layer of the mouse. 

The mouse is available now for pre-order, priced at $24.99, and will begin shipping on October 5th. 

Farewell TrackR

Apple released its AirTags earlier this year, but companies like TrackR, Tile and Chipolo have been doing Bluetooth-based trackers for much longer. I supported TrackR on Indiegogo back in 2014 when it raised over US$1 million, and I bought a pack of ten Bravo tags. TrackR always seemed to be teetering on the edge of greatness but never quite made that breakthrough and, sadly, it now appears that it’s fallen into the abyss. A message on its website says, “We regret to inform you that TrackR will no longer be supported on Apple or Android devices after August 15, 2021. We want to thank you for your trust and support throughout the years. We hope TrackR was the perfect resolution for finding your lost items.

TrackR’s products weren’t perfect – the Bravo was a bit quiet and the battery door on the Pixel was tricky – but it got many things right. Tracking could be shared across multiple devices, e.g. your tablet and your phone; there was family sharing so your phone could report on the presence of your partner’s bag; and if you lost your keys, the TrackR community could look for them on your behalf.

And TrackR really did save the day. I remember one time I dropped my car keys in the boot (trunk) of my car. Somehow the keys managed to fall below the removable floor and into the spare tyre well. Without the TrackR tag beeping away and guiding the way, I would never have found the keys in just a few minutes. It would never have occurred to me to look below the boot floor.

TrackR rebranded as Adero back in 2018 as it looked to move beyond tracking tags, but that website has gone dark too.

For now, the TrackR app continues to work as long as I don’t log out of the app, but it looks like if I move to a new phone, the tags will become e-waste, which is a shame. I’ll have to look for a replacement. Samsung’s SmartTags only work with their phones and tablets, which is disappointing, so I suspect I’ll be looking at Tile instead.

Judge Rules Apple Must Allow Other Forms of In-App Purchases

The legal battle between Epic and Apple has made it to court. Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rodgers, of the United States District Court of Northern California, has issued a permanent injunction in the Epic v. Apple case. From the injunction:

Apple Inc. and its officers, agents, servants, employees, and any person in active concert or participation with them (“Apple”), are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from prohibiting developers from (i) including their apps and their metadata buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing and (ii) communicating with customers through points of contact obtained voluntarily from customers through account registration within the app.

The Verge reported that this means that iOS apps must be allowed to direct users to payment options beyond those offered by Apple. The permanent injunction will take effect in 90 days.

In addition, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rodgers wrote a judgement that includes a counterclaim:

On the complaint, in favor of plaintiff Epic Games, Inc. on the Tenth Count for violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (with a separate injunction issuing herewith) and in favor of defendant Apple, Inc. on all other counts.

On the counterclaim, in favor of Apple on the counterclaim for breach of contract. Epic Games shall pay (1) damages in an amount equal to (i) 30% of the $12,167,719 in revenue Epic Gams collected from users in the Fortnite app on iOS through Epic Direct Payment between August and October 2020, plus (ii) 30% of such revenue Epic Games collected from November 1, 2020, through the date of the judgement, and interest according to law.

CEO of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, tweeted: “Today’s ruling isn’t a win for developers or for consumers. Epic is fighting for fair competition among in-app payment methods and app stores for a billion consumers.”

Tech Reporter for NPR, Bobby Allyn, tweeted: “Epic spokeswoman confirms it is appealing the decision; Apple is “considering all legal options” in response. Nobody’s happy!”

The results of the permanent injunction could be a big deal for companies that make games for iOS. They can do that and point consumers toward their own platform for payment.

Sling cuts Locast ties fast, offers alternative for local channels

The past few days have been a whirlwind for Locast, and unfortunately, it was all a downward spiral. Initially, the company lost in court versus major media companies CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. Locast rebroadcasts them and, since it’s free, the channels don’t get a cut. 

However, since the rebroadcaster does ask for donations, the media companies seized on that, claiming it resulted in more income than it took to run the business. True, but Locast pointed out that the overage went to getting into new markets. 

No matter, Locast is shut down for now, but the case goes on.  

Before the seat could get cold Sling, who had partnered with Locast to bring local channels to their service, began again pushing it’s OTA antenna for $20, a bit more than half off. Previously it had been running a joint TV advertising campaign that was benefitting both companies. 

The link for Locast is still in the Sling lineup but leads to a message about its ongoing problems at this time. As for the media companies, they got $0 for winning, people got back to OTA or no local at all. Some win, guys.

Horstmann ChannelPlus H27XL Controller: Built to Fail

On Sunday morning I was looking forward to a lazy few hours in my PJs. The plan called for a hearty breakfast, freshly ground coffee, some light reading and a hot shower before deciding what to do for the reminder of the day. Regrettably, the unexpectedly cold water from the showerhead put an end to an otherwise agreeable time.

Further investigation was required and normally, I’d put this event down to excessively long showers by my teenage daughter but as she was still in bed, that wasn’t the problem on this particular morning. I traced the fault to this, the Horstmann Channel Plus H27XL water and heating controller. It’s a simple two channel 7 day timer that controls my gas boiler, and after working flawlessly for many years, it appeared to be completely dead. I checked the mains power to the controller was still on and no amount of button-pushing could bring the device back to life.

At this point, it looked to be time for a new unit. Online, the price for a replacement H27XL looked to be around GB£60-£70, but as I was browsing for the best price, I came across reviews and posts complaining about an internal battery. Although used for backing up the timer settings during power failures, once the battery ran out, the controller stopped working completely. Completely.

The H27XL is held together with two screws, a crosshead on the left and a Torx-style on the right, and both covered with stickers. Horstmann certainly aren’t making it easy to open up the controller. Once inside there’s a standard CR2450 lithium battery held in place with a couple of tiny spot welds. A battery that costs less than £3. Five minutes of prying with a flat-bladed screwdriver extricated the battery from the contacts.

A further minute and some sticky tape (it’s only 3V DC but use insulating tape if you want to be really safe) and I have a fresh battery powering the unit, though it still looks dead at this point. I’ll replace the sticky tape with a battery holder once I find a suitable model over at Farnell.

I put it all back together and fitted the controller back onto its connecting base plate. Straightaway the H27XL powered on and fired up the boiler. 20 minutes later and I was back relaxing in the shower with hot water. Aaah!

I can’t say whether this is deliberate obsolescence by design but it doesn’t look good. The battery is always going to run out at some point and it’s poor that it’s not user-replaceable, especially in this era of trying to reduce e-waste. All I can say for sure is that I won’t be buying any Horstmann products in the future.

(Horstmann Controls now seems to be Secure Meters and is entirely unrelated to the German firm Horstmann Gmbh.)

FTC Pushes Back Against Facebook’s Removal of NYC Ad Observatory

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg regarding the company’s removal of NYC’s Ad Observatory from the platform. The letter was written by Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine.

Facebook posted on its Newsroom that it had disabled the accounts, apps, Pages, and platform access associated with NYU’s Ad Observatory Project and its operators.

Facebook claimed that the researchers were gathering data by creating a browser extension that was programmed to evade Facebook’s detection system and scrape data such as usernames, ads, links to user’s profiles and ‘Why am I seeing this ad?’ information, some of which is not publicly viewable on Facebook.”

Mozilla debunked Facebook’s claim, pointing out that Mozilla decided to recommend Ad Observer because their review of it assured them it respected user privacy. According to Mozilla, it does not collect personal posts or information about friends and it does not compile a user profile on its server.

Here are some parts of the letter from the FTC to Mark Zuckerberg:

“I write concerning Facebook’s recent insinuation that its actions against an academic research project conducted by NYU’s Ad Observatory were required by the company’s consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. As the company has since acknowledged, this is inaccurate. The FTC is committed to protecting the privacy of people, and efforts to shield targeted advertising practices from security run counter to that mission…

“…Had you honored your commitment to contact us in advance, we would have pointed out that the consent decree does not bar Facebook from creating exceptions for good-faith research in the public interest. Indeed, the FTC supports efforts to shed light on opaque business practices, especially around surveillance-based advertising…”

Clearly, the FTC does not agree with Facebook’s decision to remove the NYU’s Ad Observatory project from its platform. I wonder what Facebook is trying to hide? It must have something to do with the political ads the Ad Observatory was studying.

Senators File an Amendment About Cryptocurrency and “Brokers”

The U.S. Senate is facing backlash from the cryptocurrency industry over a portion of the Infrastructure bill that would require crypto brokers to report customer information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), CNBC reported.

The bill broadens the definition of a “broker” to include anyone who is “responsible for regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets on behalf of another person.” The definition does not exclude miners, software developers, stakers and other individuals in the crypto economy who don’t have customers.

The language does not effect centralized exchanges like Coinbase, or other public companies where consumers can buy cryptocurrencies like Robinhood, Square, and PayPal. These companies have clearly identified customers and work with them on reporting requirements due to the IRS.

Politico reported that a bipartisan group of lawmakers want to narrow down who would be subject to new tax reporting requirements that are intended to improve tax compliance among those trading digital currencies. There is an amendment that is supported by one Democrat and two Republicans Senators, all of whom are on the Senate Finance Committee.

The Blockchain Association posted what amounts to an open letter titled: “More Than 100 Crypto Ecosystem Stakeholders Support Wyden-Lummis-Toomey Amendment in Infrastructure Bill”. Those who signed this open letter support the bipartisan amendment. From the letter:

“The Wyden-Lummis-Toomey Amendment addresses significant concern raised by the bill as currently drafted by removing the obligation to report from those participants who don’t have – and shouldn’t have – access to customer information. It does so without affecting the reporting obligations placed on brokers and traders of digital assets”.

According to Politico, the Biden administration feels that the cryptocurrency industry is “using scare tactics to water down the requirements” in the bill. CNBC reported including the requirement for crypto companies to report customer information to the IRS is part of how the Infrastructure bill will be paid for.